War in Ukraine: airstrikes, drones and a looming counteroffensive
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
Crisis in Ukraine: a referendum in Crimea, Russian troops at the border and Kiev’s urgent pleas to the West. Join us to discuss escalating tensions in the region and their implications for Russia and the West.
MR. FRANK SESNOAnd thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno. I'm creator of "Planet Forward," director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University, and I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today who's on vacation. Well, the U.S. and the European Union are debating strong sanctions and starting to make their moves in response to what's been called a Russian takeover of Crimea.
MR. FRANK SESNOYesterday, Russian supporters in Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia. Joining me in the studio to discuss the crisis is: Edward Lozansky of the American University in Moscow, Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute, Angela Stent of Georgetown University, and, by phone from New York, Adrian Karatnycky. He's of The Atlantic Council. And thanks to all of you and good morning.
MS. ANGELA STENTGood morning.
SESNOThis is not a conversation that some time ago we would have thought we were having. Angela, you wrote yesterday in The Washington Post that we really need to be realistic, and we need to be smart about what's coming down the line. But what do we know before we go there about what has actually transpired inside Crimea since this vote yesterday?
STENTWell, what we know is that the Crimeans have self -- the first step they've taken is to declare their independence. They've sent a delegation to Moscow to negotiate with Russia how they will join Russia. The Russian parliament, the Duma, is said to debate this issue this week, and presumably, at some point, President Putin and his advisors will weigh in on this too.
STENTSo, right now, we are waiting to see whether the Kremlin says, OK, Crimea can become part of the Russian federation. It can become one of our republics in the federation or whether he demurs and waits, President Putin, to see what happens if takes some other course of action. But I think it's quite likely that, in fact, it will become part of the Russian federation very soon.
SESNOEdward Lozansky, what do you expect?
MR. EDWARD LOZANSKYWell, I agree with Angela that Putin definitely -- he cannot ignore the will of 90 percent-plus, both Crimean's and Russians.
SESNOThey're claiming 96.77 percent.
LOZANSKYAnd this is, I think, understandable because they have, like, three points. First, Crimeans want to go back to their Motherland, and they want the protection from what they call neo-Nazis. It's pretty dangerous. I would say a real threat. And third is that just down-to-earth level of life. The Ukrainians, the salaries, the pensions of that are, like, four times less than the Russians so it's pretty forward.
SESNOYou say it's a real threat. So this is not something that is being fabricated by Moscow or in Crimea, you're saying?
LOZANSKYAbsolutely not. It's a real threat from neo-Nazis who are really gaining momentum in Crimea...
MR. ADRIAN KARATNYCKYThat is preposterous, Ed. I know you are a shill for the Russian government, but it's just a preposterous claim. The far right has 2.5 to 3.5 percent support in nationwide polls in Ukraine. People are moving away from them the more they learn about them. The only reason far right candidates got any support in Ukraine was because they were tough opponents of Yanukovych, but no one supports their policies. And they have no longer...
SESNOAdrian Karatnycky, let me just jump in and ask you this. Do you see this whole thing as a created crisis, then?
KARATNYCKYWell, first of all, let's start from the beginning. There was no 96 percent support. If you look at the statistics, Sevastopol has a population of 384,000 people, men, women, children. Four hundred seventy-four-thousand people voted in Sevastopol. The electoral base is less than 300,000. One hundred eighty thousand additional votes were pumped in. It's simply impossible to have had that kind of a turnout.
KARATNYCKYCrimean Tatars who represent 15 percent of the population uniformly boycotted this, as did the majority of ethnic Ukrainians. I'm not saying that there may not be a majority there, but the idea that there was this huge North Korean-style plebiscite, that it is accepted uncritically, is just ridiculous.
SESNOLet me bring...
KARATNYCKYThis was done under military occupation with thugs. All Ukrainian TV stations were turned off. There was no debate about the issues. There was no consideration of the consequences. There was not an informed opinion. There was a military invasion and a plebiscite rushed through, which was originally supposed to be done with deliberation over the course of a month or so, was sped up precisely to prevent any kind of second thoughts, opinions, exchange of views.
KARATNYCKYAnd the idea that this can be accepted as the will of the people is -- not to speak of the fact that it was against the rules of international law and against the Ukrainian constitutional rules that Mr. Putin is purporting to uphold is just out of the, you know, beyond understanding and beyond reason.
SESNOLet me bring Anders Aslund in.
MR. ANDERS ASLUNDYeah, thank you. I think that we should back to how the whole thing started. First, Russia military without insignia, obviously special forces, took over the parliament. After that, they appointed a chap who had got 4 percent for his party in the last regional elections. They appointed him prime minister. This dubious prime minister was then organizing a vote among the few people the Russian let into the parliament that they should have a referendum.
MR. ANDERS ASLUNDAnd then the Russian military have occupied the whole of Crimea so this is a -- as Adrian Karatnycky says, this is not a vote. This is not a referendum. This is military occupation and in Sevastopol, it was 123 percent of the population that voted for it, so the number we should just forget.
STENTYeah, and just to add to that, so the posters that people saw before they voted was a choice between, on the one hand, the Russian flag and next door to it, a map of Ukraine in red with a swastika on it. I mean, again, this fabricated Nazi fascist threat, it's preposterous, and it's the kind of thing which, of course, arouses people's concern in the West. But, you know, this a very small group in Kiev, and, as far as most people know, no one was threatening Crimea. This was a preemptive action taken when President Yanukovych fled on February the 22nd.
SESNOEdward Lozansky, let me ask to respond to what we have just heard. This, by all accounts, from these other three guests, is a shotgun marriage or divorce. It has been a rushed referendum. If we look at other places where there are votes, there are weeks, months, sometimes years of discussion and debate. That was not the case. The opposition and debate was, in fact, shot down. Media were controlled. If Crimea and if Russia want legitimacy around a vote, how in any way of looking at it was this the way to go about it?
LOZANSKYWell, situation was pretty difficult, and, of course, it was not perfect, what you call Western-style referendum elections. But I can tell, if it would be really perfect American-style, although in America also sometimes not really perfect, but let's say European, great democracy there, it still maybe have 96, maybe it will be 91 or 89. I am absolutely sure.
LOZANSKYAs for neo-Nazi threat, it may be Adrian is right. He is saying that they only enjoy support of two or three or 4 percent. But that's not the point. They control the military. They have the arms. They calling the shots. And if you remember in 1917...
SESNOWho is they? Who is calling the shots?
LOZANSKYThe neo-Nazis. This probably sector Svoboda Party and other French groups. In 1917 in Russia, Bolsheviks had only 6 percent, almost a single month, and they took over, and they installed 70 years of tyranny for Communism. So I wouldn't underestimate the threat from neo-Nazis. It's real threat, and Crimean people felt it. They wanted protection from Mother Russia.
SESNOAnders, go ahead.
ASLUNDYeah. I mean, nothing of this has any evidence whatsoever. There has been no sign of any discrimination against the Russians. There's been no violence before, and there was no separatism in Crimea. And this all inventions...
KARATNYCKYAnders, I'd like to...
ASLUNDThe State Department the other week put out a fact sheet after President Vladimir Putin had made a press conference and said, Ten False Statements by Vladimir Putin. So Vladimir Putin is now lying about anything, everything in the...
ASLUNDLying about everything in Ukraine. Check the State Department fact sheet. And Edward Lozansky's here sitting and wildly reporting this. There's no neo-Nazis worth mentioning in Ukraine, and it poses no threat. It does not control the military. Why should we listen to these kind of statements?
KARATNYCKYOur question to Ed Lozansky is...
SESNO...let me just ask you, if I may, directly what your assessment of this right and neo-Nazi group was and how much influence they actually have had, if any, institutionally in Crimea?
KARATNYCKYWell, first of all, there are no neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine. There are groups that are ultra-nationalist. One of them is called Svoboda. It is a parliamentary party. Its leaders have made no -- you know, its leaders are disreputable. There's no question about it, but they are not in a position of controlling the shots. The government is led by pragmatist, moderates. The president is an ethnically Russian Baptist minister with absolutely no history of radicalism.
KARATNYCKYThe prime minister is a nerdy guy who actually served as the deputy economics minister of Crimea, who served as the head of the National Bank. He's 39 years old. He's, you know, polished. He's completely pro-E.U. oriented, et cetera, et cetera. The right sector is a group of several hundred people which was actually infiltrated by both the Ukrainian security services and the Russian security services over the years to create a sort of a, you know, to create straw men around which, you know, security measures could be taken and around which propaganda could be built.
KARATNYCKYThere are no -- in fact, there are Russian agents. And there, by far, many more ultra-nationalist and racists currently working as election observers of the Crimean referendum. Mr. Putin invited people from the Le Pen Party in France to observe the elections. They invited people from the far right Freedom Party in Austria. So if you're looking for, you know, crypto-fascists and neo-Nazis, look to Mr. Putin's bedfellows. But I have a question for Ed Lozansky...
SESNOBefore you do, let me just -- because we're going to have to take a break, a quick break in just a moment and so before we do that, I just want to turn to Angela very, very quickly. Do we see another Cold War developing around this?
STENTWell, it's not...
SESNOAnd we will continue this after the break.
STENTIt's not quite a Cold War. Our missiles aren't targeted against each other at the moment. We're not in a global competition of communism versus capitalism. And Russia's integrated into the global economy, which changes the equation for both sides, but it sure feels like a Cold War.
SESNOIt is going to get worse before it gets better. We'll have more on the crisis in Crimea, how it affects U.S./Russian relations and the rest of the world after a short break.
SESNOAnd welcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane today. We're talking about the crisis in Crimea, Russia and confronting of the United States, Europe and the rest of the world. Our guest's Edward Lozansky. He's president of American University in Moscow, professor of Moscow State University and National Research Nuclear University.
SESNOAnders Aslund is senior fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Angela Stent, professor of government and director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown, University and author of the book, "The Limits of Partnership." And Adrian Karatnycky, he's a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
SESNOAngela, I'd like to come back to you for just a moment. I was asking you about the Cold War a moment ago and whether we were confronting another one. You said, not quite, but it's because we don't have missiles aimed at one another. But this is not going to be a pleasant thing. Let's talk about what's -- where we're going now. The United States has said that the E.U., the European Union is going to be announcing sanctions today against 21 individuals for illegal actions in Ukraine. Twenty one people, sanctions, is this likely to have a bite? Where does this take the relationship?
STENTWell, I think these sanctions, if they're intended to deter future Russian actions, I would be very surprised if they did. I mean, they are targeted. It's a limited number of people. If you really wanted to have sanctions that really bit, they'd have to be much broader. They'd have to involve the financial sector of banking and everything else.
STENTAnd the problem is that just because Russia is now integrated in the global economy, you know, U.S. and particularly European businesses are also very active in how the assets and interests in Russia. And they've been putting pressure on both the European and U.S. governments not to have very robust sanctions. So now we don't have mutually assured destruction anymore with weapons. We appear to have mutually assured containment economically which also restrains the ability or the willingness of the west to have tougher sanctions.
SESNOAnders Aslund, how far is Europe prepared to go with all of this?
ASLUNDI think much farther. What we saw today, I think, was just the beginning. There has been a list circulated with 120 to 130 names of top officials. And there's been much talk about Iran, like, financial sanctions against Russia because what Russia has done is really (unintelligible) it has...
SESNODo you really think that the European Union and the United States are prepared to clamp down on Russia the way they have clamped down on Iran, which is a virtual exclusion of business?
ASLUNDI think that's we're likely to see that in the financial scale, not when it comes to oil. Possibly when it comes to gas because Russia's totally dependent on western finance because it does not have a legal order that allows Moscow to develop as a financial center. So therefore the financial center of Russia is London.
SESNOSo, Edward Lozansky, does Vladimir Putin care about these sanctions? Will these sanctions actually have any impact?
LOZANSKYFirst of all, I want to return the favor to Aslund. He said my point is ridiculous. I think his point is dangerous -- dangerous because the U.S. now has to concentrate not on how to punish Russia but how to work with Russia to defuse this crisis. And they have so many things in common. They have so many things -- problems to solve.
LOZANSKYFirst of all, Russia's not helping U.S. in Afghanistan. This is issue number one because, without Russia's help, the U.S. will be a bit troubled just transferring all the troops and equipment from Afghanistan. This is number one issue, but many, many other issues, of course, terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, and the economic issues as well. There's so many American companies, top companies, about 500 Fortune companies who work in Russia. He wants to hurt the interest and Europeans.
LOZANSKYThis will not happen. I want to give Obama credit because it's only those visitor restrictions may be just symbolic gestures, which is OK because Obama didn't do a good job. But he was saying that they were throwing cocktail Molotovs (sic) at our police and that he was saying those are peaceful demonstration. I didn't really necessarily was -- agreed with Obama.
SESNOLet me ask you, Edward Lozansky, though, does -- Vladimir Putin confronts virtually unanimous outrage in the European Union and the United States, right?
SESNOYou don't think so? (unintelligible)...
LOZANSKYWell, look at the general parliament. Members of the general parliament were saying that we are supporting neo-Nazis in Ukraine. It was a -- and Putin said, members of general parliament during the hearings, they were saying this. Several groups within general parliament were saying this.
SESNOThe German chancellor said nothing of the kind. The German chancellor took an entirely different point of view, and the...
LOZANSKYNo, the opposition. Opposition...
ASLUND(unintelligible) culminates the German politics.
LOZANSKYIt was not (word?).
SESNOBut you can find a couple of voices. The couple -- I'm not talking about the couple of voices. I'm talking about those who are speaking with the national intent and the national prerogative, in this case the German chancellor, the President of the United States, the British prime minister, the foreign minister of all these countries, they're meeting. You cannot suggest here that this is not something that has prompted widespread serious international outrage.
KARATNYCKYFrank, I'd like to ask Ed a question. Does Ed know that in December the Russian Duma and the Russian parliament passed legislation making it illegal to agitate for separation of any area from Russia, including by referendum? It's subject to a five-year prison sentence. And if we had -- you know, Russia went to war over Chechnya. It did not say, well, let the Chechen people decide and hold their own referendum in '94 and '96. It was only after 100,000 people had been murdered in a brutal suppression of their movement towards separatism (unintelligible)...
SESNOEdward Lozansky, your response to that question.
LOZANSKY(unintelligible) I never said that Russia is a perfect democracy. And, of course, Russia has problems. We are talking about interest of the United States first. So what you're saying, that if it's not in the interest of the United States, don't pose sanctions. Symbolic, yes, probably we have no choice. Not serious financial sanctions because it will hurt the United States and Europe more than it would hurt Russia.
SESNOA Kremlin statement that was issued not long ago described a conversation between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama in which, according to the Kremlin, Putin told President Obama -- and I'm quoting here now, "The current authorities in Kiev have so far failed to demonstrate the ability and desire to rein in the ultranationalist and radical groups that are destabilizing the situation in the country, terrorizing ordinary people including Russian-speaking population and Russia's compatriots." This sounds like a threat for more.
ASLUNDIndeed. Exactly as you are saying, Frank. What we are seeing is that Russia is threatening a big attack on Ukraine. We have now seen thousands of Russian military tourists and various kinds of hooligans that have been bussed into Russia to the big cities in the east and south in order to cause trouble. And when they have done that, then we got these statements from Russia. I would expect a big Russian attack on Ukraine within the next 10 days.
SESNOYou expect a big Russia attack on Ukraine within 10 days?
ASLUNDYeah, over the mainland. If you...
SESNOA land attack? An invasion.
ASLUNDYes, yes. The troops are there (unintelligible)...
SESNOAngela Stent, go ahead.
STENTI mean, so Putin, in a press conference and several press conferences, and also Lavrov the foreign minister have said that they don't want a war, but they reserve the right if their compatriots ask them for help and feel threatened that they'll come in. As Anders said, there've already been a lot of provocations. There has been -- one person was stabbed to death in eastern Ukraine a couple of days ago. So you already see the conditions created for the Kremlin to say, our compatriots are in danger, and we have to march and we have to help them.
STENTSo I think the ultimate goal, certainly from the Russian point of view, is to weaken Ukraine to the point where it doesn't matter if (unintelligible) Ukraine signed some kind of agreement with the European Union and whether that's by direct military attack or by pushing for a federal solution in Ukraine instead of having a unitary state where Russia can exercise much more influence. But this -- I think that Crimea is the first step of a wider plan really to dismember Ukraine and prevent it from being territorially attacked.
KARATNYCKYAnd here I would say that that's the reason why I think, even though sanctions may be disruptive temporarily, they are essential because, first of all, keep in mind Russia is an economy roughly the size of Italy's. It is not this immense vast economic super power. It's mainly energy, and it's mainly oil and gas. And some of this can be handled and substituted. And some people, in fact, in Europe have said that basically if you just took the time off from supporting the chemical fertilizer industry, European dependence on Russian gas is very limited. And the impact of Russia would be very limited.
KARATNYCKYIt would basically only hurt on segment of an industry and it would not have wide-scale repercussions. But the second issue is that, you know, Putin does not have an end game other than disruption and the maximization of his interests including, you know, the attachment of Crimea to Russia. And, by the way, attachment to Crimea -- Crimea to Russia may not end there because on Feb. 2 in Gagauzia, which is a part of Moldova that had a referendum saying that if Moldova moves towards the European Union, they will declare independence and link up with Russia.
KARATNYCKYAnd so there's a second referendum out there. Gagauzia is a part of Moldova that actually borders the E.U. It borders Romania, which would allow Russia to project its own territory in another area of Europe. Then there's Transnistria, so you're talking about a whole set of disruptive westward expansion of Russian territory if this is allowed to stand in the way that it stands.
KARATNYCKYThe final point that I would make is that, having said all that, Putin's foreign ministry has offered sort of a peace formula. It is an unacceptable peace formula, but it is the beginning of a discussion. It calls for recognition of the Crimea referendum for federalization of Ukraine, for status of Russian as a second language and for military political neutrality in return for Russia's supporting a security council guarantee for the new reconfigured Ukraine's territorial integrity.
KARATNYCKYNow, all of those things, each one of them or all of them together are unacceptable, but there may be a way to do a workout to have a new referendum under U.N. observation. And with a period of debate to give it legitimacy with compensation to Ukraine and for the loss of (unintelligible)...
SESNOAll right. Let me bring Edward Lozansky in here. Do you see that as a...
LOZANSKYNo. Well, I think that federalization is a very good idea.
SESNOWell, could this happen under U.N. auspices? Could there be a rethink of the referendum? Could everybody -- do you see the Russians and the Duma -- I mean, Putin is going to be speaking to the Duma tomorrow.
LOZANSKYNo, no. All this could happen, but not Crimea. Crimea's gone. For all reasons, Crimea's gone. Now we can really -- if you really want to preserve peace and stability in Ukraine and help Ukraine first of all because it differently -- we know that east Ukraine and west Ukraine, they're two opposite countries. The only way to preserve it is to have federalization. And I think Putin is ready for that. Obama should go for that, but Crimea is gone.
SESNOYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We are talking about Crimea and Russia and the crisis confronting the world really as a result of these new steps. Anders Aslund, you wanted to jump in.
ASLUNDYeah, I wanted to point out that the fundamental problem we are facing here is a war on egression by Russia because of the annexation that we are seeing now of Crimea...
SESNOIf it's a war of egression, then what should NATO's response be?
ASLUNDNATO does not have an agreement with Ukraine. But in the Budapest Memorandum of December '94, Ukraine promised to give up its nuclear arms against a security guarantee by the United States, United Kingdom and Russia. And all three countries now forget their obligation according to this memorandum.
SESNOIs there a danger, Angela Stent, of military action, military confrontation that grows out of this?
STENTWell, we go back to the Cold War, right. We had the Cold War for 67 years, and there was never any direct military confrontation. I do not believe that there is. The United States NATO are not going to go to war with Russia over Crimea or over eastern Ukraine. You know, the U.S. and Russia are the two -- world's two nuclear super powers. You just can't do that.
STENTSo there have been some NATO military maneuvers. There has to be reassurance for the Baltic states for Poland to feel -- particularly the Baltic states threatened by the spectra of the Russian military marching into Crimea. But there won't be a military confrontation. There's an understanding of that, and therefore in the end it has to be worked out diplomatically. Maybe it's true that this Russian foreign ministry proposal is the starting point, but there can't be military confrontation.
SESNOYesterday in The Washington Post, Jack Matlock, who was the last ambassador to the Soviet Union, wrote a very interesting piece entitled The U.S. has treated Russia like a loser since the end of the Cold War. And he suggested in some strong language that, at some level, the United States and the West were to blame for all of this.
SESNOIn fact, he said that President George W. Bush delivered what he called the diplomatic equivalent of swift kicks to the groin talking about the expansion of NATO, talking about the invasion of Iraq without U.N. Security Council approval. Talking about the role that the United States and the west played in the revolutions of Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and even of talking of bringing some of these countries into NATO. Anders Aslund, is there something to this?
KARATNYCKYNo one has been more differential to Putin under the reset than President Obama. He has, you know, conceded to him on Syria. He has conceded to him on Iran. You know, the U.S. asked Russia to join the G8. There were all sorts of gestures that were made to create a new working relationship between Russia and the West.
SESNOAnd Putin -- and you think -- and Putin was having...
KARATNYCKYMr. Bush looked into his eyes and saw someone we could do business with.
SESNOAnd Putin was having none of it, you think?
SESNOAnd Putin was having none of it?
KARATNYCKYWell, I think Putin is an opportunist, and he's looking for -- when he sees weakness, he moves. He saw that there was a bit of chaos in the transition in Ukraine, and he had a plan B. This was -- and I think he is looking at every opportunity, at any neighboring country where there would be some chaos. And I would say that the countries, such as Kazakhstan and others and Belarus, if they -- whatever their politics, if they see instability, Russia may use similar tactics to establish or to try to establish hegemony over them which is a very dangerous thing.
ASLUNDYeah, I basically agree with Jack Matlock in particular about the policy towards Russia in the 1990s when President Yeltsin tried to accommodate the United States and got hardly anything for it. But that does not mean that one should be -- give up when President Putin does totally unacceptable demands and also states things about the situation in Ukraine that are persistently untrue. So this is a time to stand up.
LOZANSKYWell, I'm on the page with Jack Matlock. Of course, we had many discussions. He was (unintelligible) with Reagan and as a U.S. embassy in Moscow. I think Jack Matlock -- I would vote for every word he said because when communism collapsed, what the U.S. should've done is simply to integrate Russia and make it part of the West. And Russia was ready not only under Yeltsin but under Putin. In 2001, Putin did for U.S. more than all our allies together to help in Afghanistan.
LOZANSKYThen Putin offered to be a partner, to be a part of the West, even to join NATO. He was rebuffed. And despite his help in Afghanistan, he get (unintelligible) expansion, he had colour revolutions, he get ABM Treaty, all those things which of course made him mad.
STENTWell, I think definitely the Russians feel that we have disrespected them since the collapse of the Soviet Union. I agree with Anders that more could've been done in the 1990s. I think the real problem was not expanding NATO but was not giving Russia a stake in the new Euro Atlantic Security System, was not giving Russia the perspective of one day joining NATO, which both President Yeltsin and President Putin in the beginning wanted.
STENTBut I think the real problem is -- and I discuss this in my book -- that what Mr. Putin really wanted after supporting the United States after 9/11 and Russia was very important, was an equal partnership of unequals. That is to say, he wanted the U.S. to treat Russia as an equal even though, by all economic and military reckoning and calculations, it wasn't.
STENTAnd he didn't get that respect. So I think we're living with this legacy. And I think particularly -- and this is where Ukraine comes in -- after supporting the U.S. after 9/11, he expected the U.S. to recognize Russia's fear of influence in its neighborhood.
SESNOQuick break. We'll come back and your calls on Russia, Crimea and the world.
SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane today. We're talking about Russia, Crimea and the crisis confronting the rest of the world as a result of actions that have taken place there, really in just the last 24 hours, as Crimea votes to become a part of Russia. We're joined by phone right now, by Adrian Karatnycky, he's a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
SESNOIn the studio here: Angela Stent, professor of government and director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies at Georgetown University, Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Edward Lozansky. He's president, American University in Moscow, professor at Moscow State University. And we want to go to the phones now and to your questions and calls. If you want to call in with a question, our number here is 1-800-433-8850. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SESNOI'd like to start, Anders, with this one for you. This is an email from Joe, who asks the following question: "If the people of Crimea wanted to separate in a way that is viewed as proper by the international community, how would they have done it?"
ASLUNDWell, there is a statute in the Ukrainian Constitution which says that any referendum on independence of a secession should be decided at the central level, and it should not have been undertaken under military occupation. It should have been done in agreement with the authorities in Kiev. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk has said that he's prepared to offer Crimea more autonomy. Crimea has substantial autonomy as it is today. And therefore that's simply a negotiation with Kiev.
SESNOBut you agree with what Edward Lozansky said a few moments ago, that Crimea is done. I mean, that's not -- we're not going back to that.
ASLUNDNo, I don't -- I don't think so. This is the complete change of post-Cold War order in Europe. It's quite similar to Hitler's invasion of Sudetenland or the Anschluss...
SESNOThat's a very -- that's a very serious...
ASLUNDYes, it's a very serious thing. And so we should not ignore it just because the Ukrainians have decided not to fight.
SESNOAdrian Karatnycky, go ahead quickly, if you would.
KARATNYCKYYeah, there's some breaking news from ITAR-TASS, which I normally don't quote, but there will be no quick movement to the absorption of Crimea by the Russian Parliament. The Russian Duma just announced that they are taking the draft legislation, which creates a constitutional means for absorbing new territories into the configuration of Russia, for review by the Venice, which may be a long, deliberative process. It seems that, if there is a lot -- if there is pushback on the international community -- strong sanctions and higher levels of sanctions -- that Russia may be sensitive to these issues.
KARATNYCKYIt's already seen its stock market tumbling about 15 percent in recent weeks and the value of its currency 10 percent this year and probably the prospect for far, far more. Gazprom's stocks have tumbled. And, as you know, the chairman of Gazprom, right before the invasion, sold all of his shares at a bit of insider trading and insider information. So I think these -- it's all the more reason why the sanctions have to be tough, they have to be vigorous. And certainly we should look for diplomatic solutions. But it shows that there is a little bit of pushback.
SESNOYeah, Angela, if this signal...
STENTYes. Mm hmm.
SESNO...from the Duma is for real, does it suggest that maybe there's a deliberative way through this?
STENTWell, maybe. Certainly they -- the sanctions -- the threat of sanctions has prompted them to revisit the question of quick absorption. But what you could get in Crimea -- and we've already heard from Adrian about the other frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space -- you could still get a kind of a mini-statelet, an entity existing -- the Crimea -- within Ukraine, that doesn't respond to Kiev anymore. So I think, in that sense, Crimea is never going to have the status in Ukraine that it had before.
SESNOLet's go to the phones. A question from Elmar in Alexandria, Va. Go ahead, Elmar.
ELMARGood morning. Yeah, I had a question regarding the Budapest 1994 agreement. (unintelligible) the Russian side here did what I see a lot of people on the Russian side who also support Moscow's point of view, tangle with nuclear non-proliferation as a special tool that West can lose all cooperation in that if they impose too harsh of a sanctions with Russia's imported. But doesn't Russia's breach of that agreement basically present the biggest threat to the whole non-nuclear proliferation?
SESNOA threat to nuclear non-proliferation agreement. Edward Lozansky, start us.
LOZANSKYI think that what we -- happened here is that this agreement was signed with legitimate government of Ukraine. At this point, I think that Russia believes that it's illegitimate. That's why this...
SESNOThat it is legitimate or illegitimate?
LOZANSKYIllegitimate. That's why it was created during the coup. And that's why the Budapest agreement is null and void.
SESNOAngela, give 10 seconds of background for people who may not know, off the top of their heads, what this agreement is -- as to what it is.
STENTWell, this was the agreement 20 years ago, signed by the United States, by Russia, by Britain and, of course, the Ukrainian government, that Ukraine would give up its nuclear weapons -- it was the third-largest nuclear state in the world, once the Soviet Union collapsed -- in return for the respect and recognition of its territorial integrity and its sovereignty. And Ukrainians are now saying, if the Russians say this is null and void, then maybe we should think about reacquiring nuclear weapons. So this really is a very serious breach.
ASLUNDYeah. Thank you very much, Elmar. You are exactly right. This means that the whole nuclear non-proliferation treaty is meaningless if Russia reneges on it. And Edward Lozansky made a wonderful argument and said that the government is not legitimate in Ukraine. There are two problems with this statement. The first is that an agreement is made with a country and not with a specific government. So the agreement stands.
ASLUNDAnd, secondly, of course, the Ukrainian government today is far more legitimate than the Russian government of President Putin, because President Putin has made a fake election exactly as the one we saw on Crimea, now, and while the Ukrainian government was appointed by more than two-thirds of a reasonably democratically elected Ukrainian Parliament.
SESNOBack to the phones for a moment. John is calling in from Ann Arbor, Mich. John, go ahead.
JOHNThank you very much for taking my comment and my question. In the 1990s, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, we made three serious mistakes: one, accepting the arbitrary borders of the Soviet Republic as international borders, a la Yugoslavia, two, acquiescing to the Russian Federation acquiring the Soviet U.N. Security Council seat, and, three, NATO expansion. Twenty-three years after the Soviet collapse, we are reaping the consequences of these mistakes. In responding to our current situation, our strident, Russophobic response is surely no more helpful.
JOHNIf we are not to face serious problems again in some 20 years, isn't it time to think about some different approaches to Russia and the former Soviet Union than we are currently pursuing?
SESNOAngela, let me start -- let you start with that, since you wrote something along these lines in the paper just yesterday, about how we need knowledge, and we need perspective.
STENTWe need knowledge, and we need realism and perspective. The problem is, if you then revisit the whole question -- I agree all of the borders of these countries in the post-Soviet space are the result of, you know, what Stalin basically did when he was commissioner of nationalities and thereafter, but, you know, look at the precedent. If you say, well, you know, as President Putin said to President Bush in 2008, Ukraine isn't a country. You know, the western part of Ukraine was part of Eastern Europe and the eastern part was part of Russia.
STENTBut if you start questioning all of these borders and trying to redivide them on ethnic lines that make -- seem to make more sense, you know, where does this stop? I mean, and this is the problem. You have to accept it, and then you have to try and move forward. So clearly we need to, you know, negotiate with Russia about, in general, its interests and its perspectives in the post-Soviet space which is something we've never really done in a systematic way. And I certainly do describe that in my book. But I think you can't revise all of the borders of these countries 22 years after the collapse.
KARATNYCKYYeah, and, again, it would be immensely destabilizing for Russia itself. If you looked at the Russian ethno-political borders, there are lots of places that could claim separation. Some of them have had insurgency movements. I mean, it would be a mess.
SESNOWell, we all -- we know all about Chechnya, right? We hear that all the time. That's the one that's on the front pages, and has been, and I'm sure American's are most familiar with. But there are many others.
KARATNYCKYExactly. Exactly. So the entire Caucasus are...
SESNOSo what is your response to the caller then as to what should be done going forward, Adrian?
KARATNYCKYWell, look, I think that we should keep the, you know, I did say that Russia has made an unacceptable peace offer. But there are some solutions out there. So even on the idea of Crimean independence, if there were to be a re-vote and Ukraine were to accommodate it, in return, Ukraine would get compensation, either through, you know, war claims.
KARATNYCKYOr simply Russia would compensate Ukraine for all of the properties that it loses for the shelf -- the oil and gas shelf -- allow Ukraine to retain those, you know, some kind of a commitment for the demilitarization of Crimea, except for the military bases that the Black Sea Fleet and the Ukrainian Fleet would be able to have there.
KARATNYCKYThere are probably some reasonable workarounds. Even on the federal issue, which Russia is pushing, the Ukraine needs to decentralize. I mean, under Mr. Yanukovych, there was a total -- who was a close ally of Mr. Putin -- there was a complete centralization of authority. He appointed all the governors. Ninety percent of revenues were generated and dictated from Kiev as they had been in the Soviet period. The militia is a 350,000-powerful national police force.
KARATNYCKYThere is no local police. There are all sorts of workarounds. And it's also even possible, you know, before we had the NAFTA agreement, we had the maquiadores in the northern of Mexico. It might even be possible to contemplate Ukraine joining the European Union but having some economic zones which have a free-trade agreement with Russia and work under a different rule set. (unintelligible) on the table.
SESNOOK. There are some ideas. Edward Lozansky, there are some ideas.
LOZANSKYMy idea is to go back to George Bush Sr. When Soviet Union collapsed, when Communism collapsed, George Bush said that -- Senior, not -- the father, not son. He said, now we have to talk about completely different security and economic infrastructure, from Vancouver to Vladivostok. I think this is the way to go.
LOZANSKYIt's -- the Russians are saying that it is better late than never. Instead of doing all those things and fighting on this post-Soviet space, we have to make Russia part of the West. And it's not too late. This is why I would probably go back, read George Bush Sr. books, and go back and discuss this.
SESNOAnders Aslund, made Russia part of the West?
ASLUNDYes, absolutely. And I think that we should praise President Boris Yeltsin for doing something very wise: acknowledging all the borders and saying that these borders are sanctified. This is the decision in from December '91 in Almaty, then the capital of Kazakhstan. And what we are seeing President Putin doing now to the country, that is exactly the same thing as Adolf Hitler did in the 1930s, starting (word?) and saying, these are our people, ethnically, and therefore we have a necessity to protect them, even when they're not protected. This is extremely dangerous.
SESNOI'm confused by what you're saying, Anders Aslund, because, on the one hand, I'm hearing you compare Putin in these moves to Hitler. I'm hearing you say that in 10 days you expect some kind of land invasion. But you're also talking about trying to reach out and have Russia be part of the West. These seem to be contradictory.
ASLUNDWell, Russia should be part of the West, but not with President Putin.
ASLUNDAs long as President Putin remains there, we are likely to see a Hitler-like person in Moscow. This is very serious. Just compare it with what we are doing -- Adolf Hitler, he actually went out to Munich to get an agreement with Western powers. President Putin did not bother to talk to anybody. So this is more serious.
SESNOYou see Putin as another Hitler.
ASLUNDYeah, I see him as a totally irresponsible strongman. I don't think that he has an ideology. I think that he's just a irresponsible adventurist.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno, and you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We are discussing the crisis in Crimea and Russia and the actions that the West is now taking against Russia as a result. I want to go back to the phones here. We're joined by Mike from Orlando, Fla. Mike, go ahead.
MIKEYeah. There's one thing that I'm not hearing. And it's -- you look just to the West in Moldova. You look what happened to the Russian people when the nationalists got in power there. They basically told them to pack up and go home. They got no protection in anything. So, in a certain way, I can't blame the people of Crimea -- the Russians in Crimea -- for asking Russia to come in and protect them. You look at some of the things the nationalists at Kiev said about doing away with the Russian language and stuff. And, you know, they might fear the same thing.
MIKERight now, in Moldova, if you're a Russian, you want to be careful where you go for medical care and stuff. You get a nationalist doctor, and you will -- you might possibly die in the hospital.
SESNOAngela Stent, legitimate concerns here?
KARATNYCKYI mean, you know, this is just such a...
SESNOHang on one second, Adrian. Let me let Angela go, and then I'll come right to you.
STENTYou know, again, these things have been exaggerated. In the Ukrainian case, it was not a good idea that immediately after Mr. Yanukovych left, the Ukrainian Parliament did try and pass a law degrading the status of the Russian language. That was clearly a mistake, but that law is no longer in existence. I mean, in Moldova, you have a whole separatist region, Transnistria, where Russian speakers and Russians live, and they don't listen to what's said in the capital there. So I think, of course, Russian speakers and ethnic Russians have concerns when they live outside of Russia.
STENTBut you notice that most of these people have not gone back to Russia. They have from some of the central Asian countries but not from the western part of the former Soviet Union. So I think a lot of this is exaggerated, and it's influenced by, you know, things coming out of Moscow, too.
KARATNYCKYLook, the caller, if he visited Kiev, he would know Kiev is one of the most patriotic Ukrainian cities in the country, with 90 percent support for the government. It is primarily Russian speaking. If you look at the kiosks, if you look at the bookstores, if you look at television, the majority of it -- the vast majority is Russian-language content.
KARATNYCKYIt's the Ukrainian language that is the minority language in terms of culture, in terms of access, in terms of circulation of newspapers, even in terms of television content. There is no pressure against the Russian language, not to speak of, of ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
KARATNYCKYAnd there certainly wasn't any pressure in Crimea. Crimea is completely a Russian-speaking peninsula, so, you know, with schools and teachers all teaching in sort of the same fashion. So this idea that there was this plot to somehow repress Russians and to discriminate against them is -- it's ridiculous. Ukraine has worked out those relations pretty well over the last 22 years.
SESNOEdward Lozansky, very briefly. We only have a minute or two.
LOZANSKYYeah. I think -- want to, as last point, make a positive. Well, from U.S. we hear languages like Hitler, murderer, thug by high-level -- not only by Anders Aslund -- by Hilary Clinton, John Boehner, Bob (sic) O'Reilly called him murderer, all that stuff. Putin is talking about American partners. He's still reaching out. He still wants to be -- to work with America. So maybe we should extend our hand instead of calling him names.
SESNOAngela Stent, the fact is, too, that the foreign minister of Russia and the secretary of state are still talking to one another. Obama and Putin are still talking to one another, so it seems.
STENTOh, yes. And that's the only way to go. Obviously, we have to keep talking to Russia. The next goal will also be to get the Russian government to talk to the Ukrainian government, which it's refused to do. So, of course, that's the only way. We have to continue to try and engage Russia.
SESNOAnders Aslund, in five seconds, do you expect progress here or continued confrontation?
ASLUNDI think that the West must impose much tougher sanctions to get any hearing from Putin.
SESNOMy thanks to the panel. A fascinating conversation on a very serious issue. I'm Frank Sesno. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
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